News and Tribune

March 8, 2014

Pilot for pre-kindergarten funding may win approval

It would cost $10.6M annually for test in five counties

By Chelsea Schneider
Evansville Courier & Press

INDIANAPOLIS — A program to provide public financing for pre-kindergarten education in Indiana could still win approval during this year’s General Assembly session as work continues on Gov. Mike Pence’s chief education goal.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long confirmed Thursday that a pilot-driven program is in the formative stages, giving hint that the General Assembly may reinsert pre-kindergarten vouchers into a measure that now launches a study of early childhood education in the state.

The Indiana Senate stripped out the pilot program when initially passing the proposal over concerns of its cost.

Long cautioned no formal agreement had been reached and that lawmakers are working through a key issue of how to pay for a pilot program.

While a study pegged the cost of the pilot program in five counties at $10.6 million, the price tag would grow to $270 million if vouchers were made available statewide.

“I think there’s an argument that we need to have something out there to see what is or isn’t working,” Long said of a pilot program. “We have an opportunity to implement some evidence-based programs out there that we can look toward as we talk about implementing a much larger program in the state.”

Long, a Fort Wayne Republican, emphasized the importance of a study on early childhood education when speaking to reporters Thursday. The study, led by the Senate’s chief budget writer, Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, would explore how the state can use federal money to fund any future program, eligibility requirements and review other states’ accountability standards for early learning.

The pilot program that passed the House in the early days of the 2014 legislative session would have provided vouchers to 4 year olds in five Indiana counties for pre-kindergarten. The eligibility level for those vouchers was set to families earning up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

Pence has canvassed the state visiting preschools to make his case for the pilot program as the legislative session draws to a close March 14. On Monday, Pence said while he feels the 185 percent eligibility level contained in the House’s version is appropriate, he’s flexible.

“We are very open to adjusting that and making the kinds of changes that will allow us to go forward with this pilot program,” Pence said. “I just really do believe it’s important we do it in a fiscally responsible way.”